The original program, referred to as an "Experimental Program in Secondary Education," was developed by James R. Gaddy, Principal of New Rochelle High School, Alan Shapiro, English teacher at Isaac Young Junior High School and Dr. Neil Postman, Professor at New York University, during the fall of 1968 and presented to the administrative and supervisory staff of the City School District of New Rochelle in January, 1969.
In February of 1969 a committee of teachers under the supervision of Mr. Gaddy began a general study of the proposal.
During the spring of 1969 the committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Donald Baughman, Social Studies teacher at New Rochelle High School, released a thirteen page report of their study, with the recommendation that we proceed.
This program for learning, now referred to as Inquiry, Involvement and Independent Study, was designed to function alongside the regular instructional program at New Rochelle High School as an alternative program. The extent of the program would depend on the number of teachers and students (with the permission of their parents) who volunteer to be part of it. To date the response has been overwhelming. The program would be conducted for a period of two to three years with an ongoing evaluation team. At the end of that time it would be reviewed and a decision made as to whether or not it should be continued as part of the instructional program of the high school. The permanence of this program now seems assured.
Most school curricula are based on a set of assumptions which the experimental program rejects. For example, most school programs assume (1) that knowledge is best presented and comprehended when organized into "subjects," (2) that there are "major" subjects and "minor" ones, (3) that subjects are things you "take" and that once you have "had" them, you need not take them again, (4) that most subjects have a specific "content," (5) that the content of these subjects is more or less stable, (6) that a major function of the teacher is to "transmit" this content, (7) that the practical place to do this is in a room within a centrally located building, (8) that students learn best in 45-minute periods which are held five times a week, (9) that students are functioning well (i.e. learning) when they are listening to their teacher, reading their texts, doing their assignments, and otherwise "paying attention" to the content being transmitted, and (10) that all of this must go on as a preparation for life.
This memorandum is not the forum for a serious and thorough critique of these assumptions. Hopefully, it is sufficient to say that contemporary educational philosophy disputes most of them, in part or whole, and that few teachers would deny the merit of experimenting with programs based on an entirely different set of beliefs.
The following quotation from Walden expresses compactly the major beliefs which generate the form of the new program:
"Students should not play life, or study it merely while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?"
In other words, we are assuming (1) that learning takes place best not when conceived as a preparation for life but when it occurs in the context of actually living, (2) that each learner ultimately must organize his own learning in his own way, (3) that "problems" and personal interests as well as "subjects" form a realistic structure by which to organize learning experiences, (4) that students are capable of directly and authentically participating in the intellectual and social life of their community, (5) that they should do so, and (6) that the community badly needs them.
This set of beliefs is sometimes referred to as the "judo" principle of education. Instead of trying to forestall, resist, or neutralize the natural curiosity intelligence, energy, and idealism of youth, one uses it in a context which permits both them and their community to change. Thus, the experimental program reduces the reliance on classrooms and school buildings; it transforms the relevant problems of the community and the special interests of individual students into the students' "curriculum"; it looks toward the creation of a sense of community in both The Program, students and adults.
This proposal views the program in Inquiry, Involvement and Independent Study as having three major contexts:
ORGANIZATION AND OPERATION
A team of teachers under the supervision of the high school principal would be assigned to the program with one teacher serving as the project leader.
Teachers and students would plan the program of instruction. Courses or experiences offered in the community context of the program would be called institutional offerings. In this phase an institution or some community resource would offer space and an instructor for a course requested by students.
All required courses (to be determined) of students in the program would be taught by regular teachers and university interns. Foreign language, chemistry, certain levels of mathematics are a few examples.
Here we have the school text. Here also would come the use of facilities or resources of the regular high school program found desirable.
Teachers and university interns would be responsible for the seminar context of the program. Here in tutorial like settings students would receive basic skills, remediation and counseling. Teachers and interns would be working with small groups, counseling and guiding students. In this phase also would be the concept of town meetings. In this setting all students involved in the program would meet weekly to renew, evaluate and make recommendations.
In brief, the major idea is that the community itself will become a laboratory for the inquiries and interests of students. The classroom would be only one of many resources that the student might choose to use.
The program of Inquiry, Involvement and Independent Study may be considered as the avant garde of educational reform, as it is really an attempt to establish alternatives to our conventional instructional program.